To some, Education is an ideological battleground with the traditionalists fighting a rear-guard action, against the ever -encroaching, progressive ‘Blob’ .But the reality is somewhat different. Beneath the often overblown rhetoric, there is considerable consensus in key areas of policy, with a golden thread of continuity. Elections, of course, are all about differentiation, creating space between parties, offering clear choices.
But given that educators businessmen and investors crave predictability, here is a checklist of what we know will be on the agenda post May 7th.
The starting point is that we will have not left austerity behind. Schools and the system will see a real terms drop in their funding, estimates vary on this 5-7% maybe , so school leaders will haveto be smarter in the way they use their resources.
Next , improving the quality of teachers and teaching, and its corollary raising the status of the profession. Teacher training and particularly their professional development will be high on the agenda, as will the establishment of an independent College of Teaching in 2017. A focus on the most disadvantaged pupils, and narrowing the attainment gap between them and their peers, will still be there along with the Pupil Premium, extra funds targeted at those on free school meals and other interventions targeted at this group.
Next, its widely accepted that singleton schools are less likely to drive up standards than those that are collaborating effectively with others. So the system will seek to encourage more meaningful partnership working, across the system, and these partnerships will be inspected. Talking of which, Ofsted is ripe for fundamental reform, as confidence in the consistency, reliability and fairness of its inspections leaches away.
The demand for high quality research into classroom interventions that work and how to improve pedagogy will increase and the means to disseminate and network high quality research to ensure it gets to the chalk face and is more easily accessible, will be a major challenge of the next administration. Efforts will be made to encourage more bottom up school based research.
A shortage of school places, widely predicted but not acted on , particularly at the primary phase, will mean that more capacity needs to be built, and soon ,so financial engineers will, even now, be working out how best to secure this, with private sector support. But it will also mean that new schools will have to be established in areas of highest demand, which up to now, has not always been the case.
Its is widely accepted that the autonomous school system has an accountability deficit, and so tinkering with the accountability system, creating an effective middle tier will continue.
Employers and admissions tutors continue to grumble that young people do not have the skills needed to thrive in HE and the jobs market -so a cottage industry will develop around how best to advance the character education agenda, and deliver support for non-cognitive soft skills, across the system. This is linked with concerns over young peoples mental health , and efforts will be made to include schools in a cross cutting strategy to improve the capacity to identify and support pupils with mental health problems within the schools system, but also to help pre-empt the onset of problems through targeted pastoral support and activities that promote resilience
Currently patchy and downright poor careers advice and guidance in schools, serves to blunt opportunities for young people, while undermining the social mobility, access, skills, reducing youth unemployment , NEET and inclusion agendas, (all of which will remain on the agenda) so more reforms will be on the way in this area. Policy on careers guidance has been incremental, reactive and dysfunctional in this administration.
The system still struggles to provide and teach, to the required standard, a range of high quality vocational and practical qualifications that are respected by employers, so this struggle will continue and expect more on the Technical Baccalaureate. The drive to improve the Apprenticeship offer will continue
In higher education, the two biggest challenges remain funding, and the quality and relevance of degrees and the student offer, which provide both threats and opportunities to a sector not known for its entrepreneurial zeal. HEIs that fail to deliver on numbers and quality will either merge, or go under.
As for Teachers, they will shrug and wish that politicians would stop their whimsical interventions , get off their backs, reduce their workloads and allow them time to consolidate and use their professional judgement .Most will vote Labour, it was ever thus, and regardless of their political colour, give any incoming education secretary a hard time. Plus ca Change